A Random Pattern

Archive for April 7th, 2007

Instant Messaging’s big break?

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

First, news about Gaim
Those of you who use the Gaim client can breath a sigh of relief: The announcement.

A little background: Gaim is a multi-protocol instant-messenger client. That means that you can use one client, and log into AIM, Yahoo Instant Messenger, MSN Instant Messenger, Jabber, and even IRC servers. It’s a very nice workaround until the day when those networks get over themselves and federate just like email eventually did. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Today we learn the reason that Gaim Pidgin has been stuck in “Beta” for so long. Ultimately, it comes as no surprise that the misguided, mis-managed, and ill-behaved (dare I say – evil) company AOL is behind the long delays. Fortunately, an agreement has finally been worked out, and the excellent developers behind my favorite IM tool can continue the work they really are interested in – making an excellent IM client across all the different IM networks (technically, I believe they are mainly interested in the back-end, not the actual client).

This is breaking news, as far as I can tell, and many things are still being decided and setup. For now, it seems the best thing to do might be to sit back and wait just a little longer. The announcement indicates we’ll have a final release of Pidgin 2.0 soon, and that nothing is changing in that regard. So hang in there, and give a cheer of support for the Pidgin team!

What this might mean for all Instant Messaging Users
I will probably write more on the topic later, but I have a vague suspicion that this is the first step in a potentially big year for Instant Messaging. AOL and Google had agreed to make their clients (AIM and GTalk, respectively) interoperate. This is long overdue, and I hope the agreement with the Pidgin / Finch / libpurple developers is a sign that we’re going to see more interoperability or even federation.

To understand why that is a big deal, let me explain. I actually have my own IM server (Dreamhost allows you to set up a Jabber server when you host a website with them). This means that I don’t have to ask AOL or Yahoo or Microsoft or even Google for permission to IM. I can create my own name on my own server, if I want. It is similar to email, in that you might well have a corporate, business, or school email address instead of having to have “@aol.com” or “@hotmail.com”.

I can also talk with someone on a different domain (or server). That means, once again, that I don’t need some big company’s permission to add a friend. As an example, lets say you and I want to start IMing. I ask what your IM name is, and you tell me it is “prettycoolguy@aim.com”. I frown and respond that I’m at “dontbotherme@yahoo.com”, and ask if you have an MSN or Yahoo account. Pretty soon, we’ve both got 4 different IM clients running on our computers to keep up with our different friends – that’s dumb, inefficient, and frustrating for us customers.

Of course, AOL and the others have a vested interest in keeping things this way, because they want to “lock-in” their users to their own network, and “force” a user to evangelize to his friends (just get a AOL account, then we can chat!). This is insulting and really, abusive to us, the customers of these networks.

Google took first steps out of this morass about two years ago with Google Talk, which works with Jabber (the leading technology that allows federation or running your own server). Let’s hope we see more momentum on that front – and in the meantime, ask me for an IM address or use Google Talk or Pidgin instead of the “lock-in” company clients.

We don’t need to be babysat and insulted anymore. It’s time for the major IM networks to grow up.

Note: There are technical inaccuracies in the above descriptions, but for a large portion of my audience this serves to provide a good “picture” of what is going on. Please feel free to comment with anything you want to clarify. I have many more thoughts on this subject, but will save them for another day. :P

Edit: Not sure how I missed this article from the end of 2006, but it promises big things for GTalk from Google. Also, I’m wondering if we’ll see the integration of the libjingle library from Google into Pidgin – it would certainly make sense if they decided to work on that “in secret” due to the ongoing negotiations. This would be huge, in giving libpurple and Pidgin Voice capabilities! Update 2: looking through developer.pidgin.im, it appears that the libjingle aspect is being moved forward by a different project named Farsight – I like the name.